Stacking the Deck: Chapter Three

by Marisa

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The Ghost Zone was always shifting and changing. No area was ever quite the same after you looked away, even for a moment. Vlad Plasmius was accustomed to this, however, and could navigate accordingly. Travel in this dimension was not unlike flight, only without the worry over petty things like aerodynamics. He traveled quickly -- slow enough to make sure he did not lose Karma, but fast enough to stay ahead and lead. Which is why he was surprised -- and annoyed -- when Karma managed to keep up speed and fly next to him, side-by-side, as if they were somehow equals. In fact, it seemed his new friend was actually trying to inch his way ahead, despite having no idea as to where they were going.

Despite the lack of wind, Vlad could see Karma's clothes and white hair fluttering as they flew. The man dressed like a Victorian dandy; an extravagent navy suit complete with a frilly cravat and brooch around the neck. And Daniel thinks that I'm a froot loop? He smirked at the thought.

Much of the distance was traveled in silence. After what could have been minutes or days, Vlad turned to Karma and spoke. "We will emerge in the human world through a small mountain village." Bringing his own Ghost Portal from Wisconsin to California was out of the question. It was cumbersome, horribly unstable, and -- most of all -- highly conspicuous. The state was very particular about energy consumption, and a Ghost Portal ate up power like a child with ice cream. He did not need any unwanted attention. "About an hour and a half outside the city. There is a portal between the realms there. My--"

"Kurain Village, I assume?" There were traces of a smirk on Karma's aged features.

Vlad gritted his teeth. Karma had a very bad habit of interrupting. Making a mental note to take care of that later, Vlad nodded. "I wasn't aware the village was well-known."

"It isn't," Karma raised his head, but still looked straight forward, "I had... business there, involving an investigation, quite some time ago. Seeing as it was a village full of psychics and spirit mediums, and taking into account its close proximity to the city, it seemed like a logical place for our exit."

Very quick on the uptake, Vlad noted. And why not? Karma had been a lawyer for almost half a century. He had over forty years of experience with truth, deceit and logic. It was somewhat refreshing after dealing with countless minions with IQs in the single digits, but Karma's dominant nature could become a problem later on. "My mansion is also in the mountains, about a half-hour from the village."

"Your mansion," the words were spat, and Karma looked disgusted. "You'll forgive me if I'm not thrilled at the idea of haunting a decrepit, old house."

Vlad chuckled. "I know we've only just met, Manfred, but would it hurt to have some faith in me?"

"I--"

A loud roar interrupted him, and Vlad stopped abruptly, whirling. A gigantic, bright-green scorpion-like creature hissed at them, whipping its tail in warning. Vlad scowled. "Oh, curds and whey, I don't have the time for this! Karma, stay back!"

"Right. And here I was, just itching to put myself in danger--"

"And shut up while you're at it!" Vlad made a fist, concentrating his power into it before thrusting the hand forward. A pink glow radiated from it as he forced a ray of ectoplasmic energy at the monster once, twice, three times before he apparently hit its weak spot, causing it to shriek and reel from the pain. Its tail swiped and Vlad jumped back, holding up his hands. A pink light connected them and spread, covering both himself and Karma in a protective shield. Vlad winced as the stinger scraped the shield again and again.

"Dare I ask," Karma was forced quite close to him, the voice was almost right in his ear, "what, exactly, is his unfinished business?"

Vlad shot him a look, right before letting down the shield and shoving him back. With a small flash of light, Vlad split himself into doubles, and the two circled the scorpion before thrusting their hands out once more, burning the monster's sides. It gave an agonized shriek, turning away. It zipped off in flight, despite the fact that its legs were moving.

The two Vlads faded together, merging back into one. "You've got to be careful in this place." He turned to glare at Karma. "Next time, do try and avoid distracting me."

"What in blazes was that thing?"

"Where do you think we are, you dolt? It was a ghost." He glanced around. Seeing nothing else of great importance, he continued flight, not waiting for Karma to catch up. "We still have a ways to go."

"A ghost!" Karma matched his speed, his scowl doubling the wrinkles on his face. "You mean to tell me that... that thing was once walking the Earth?"

"It might have even been human, at one point." Vlad's expression darkened. "When you're a ghost, all you have is your own perception of yoruself. That thing was consumed by hate, or greed, or vengeance... and its appearance refelected that."

Karma opened his mouth to speak, probably some oh-so-witty retort, but no sound emerged. He closed it again, and stared ahead.

They traveled in silence once more.

The two emerged in the human world just after dusk. Kurain Village was quiet and dim, and the two ghosts passed through with no interruption. As they passed over the mountain range, Vlad quickly explained the basics of his plan to Karma. After a few minutes, Karma -- as were Vlad's expectations -- interrupted him.

"Overshadow?"

"It's like posession," Vlad explained, "but overshadow is complete control over someone. Posession runs more along the lines of influence, not control. Now, when you do that--"

Karma shook his head. "It would not be beneficial to overshadow the Judge."

"What are you talking about?"

"The Judge is key in any courtroom trial," his voice was matter-of-fact, almost... belittling. Vlad scowled, and Karma continued. "His every action will be scrutinized by the spectators. A mistrial will no doubt be called if his judgement is ever called into question..."

Blah, blah, blah. Vlad tuned out most of Karma's spiel. He never did like law studies... of course, he had nabbed Karma for that very reason, among others. Mistrial this, acquittal that... Bottom line, my entire plot will have to be reworked. Ugh, he'd be spending day and night planning, trying to appease that fop of a prosecutor and entertain his guests for the week. Oh, butter biscuits... and that documentary on the Green Bay Packers airs tomorrow, too. Well, there was no achieving great success without first great sacrifice. I'll have to record that and watch it later.

"...and such as it is, the district attorney assigned to prosecute the case would be a much more suitable target to... overshadow, as you put it."

"Hm?" Vlad cast him a half-interested glance. He hadn't actually heard any of the man's reasoning. Oh, well. It didn't really matter, he knew people like Karma all too well.

"You can hide behind your courtroom logic if you wish, Manfred, but don't think for a second that I can't see your true intentions."

"Indeed," Karma said with a low chuckle, "I would not find coming home to the courtoom particularly objectionable. It's where I belong."

"I can think of no better man to prosecute this case." Vlad pointed to a pinprick of white in the distance. "There's my mansion, up that mountain -- Our defendant-to-be should be arriving soon. I'd like to show you around before going to greet him..."

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Though aware of his new status as one of the dead, flying headfirst towards a stone wall with the intent of passing though it was not a concept often dwelled on. He had performed the maneuver perfectly, of course -- he was a von Karma after all -- but that and the subsequent walls he'd phased through had left him particularly unsettled.

In all honesty, von Karma would have much rather used the door.

Relishing in the feeling of solid ground, von Karma gazed about sternly. It seems my predictions were quite inaccurate. Indeed, if his brief glimpses of the lavish decor were any indication, Plasmius' manor was hardly a 'decrepit old house'. Vlad had a taste for the expensive and exquisite -- von Karma would commend him on his taste, had everything not been adorned in sickening shades of green and gold.

Vlad finally stopped, which was all well and good -- because von Karma froze in the air as he phased into the destination. While the rooms in the mansion tended to be dark warm, the air in this room was cool and still, stinking heavily of disinfectant and almost making him gag. That, combined with the buzz of the lights overhead and the glossy white finish all around, gave the moment an artificial feel. Fresh memories washed over von Karma and his feet touched the ground and he went rigid, absentmindedly grabbing his wrist. "This place..."

"My laboratory." Vlad strolled to a nearby computer. If he noticed von Karma's reaction, he took no notice of it. "Little more than makeshift at the time being, doesn't even have a ghost portal... my true laboratory is back home in Wisconsin. This is just a temporary measure. It will suit our needs."

Von Karma looked up, shaking the memories off and turning wary eyes at Plasmius. "Our needs, Vlad?" He stepped forward, glancing at the screen over the other ghost's broad shoulders, "How, pray tell, does a laboratory work its way into our plan?"

Vlad froze, then quickly danced his fingers over the keys in what looked, to von Karma, like nothing but random mashing. He scowled. Computers... he scoffed. Any idiot could do calculations on one of those stupid machines. And he was just about to say so, too, when suddenly--

DONNNG! A loud noise, not unlike a gong, echoed through the laboratory and the hallways. Vlad looked up and smiled. "My guests are here. I must be going..." He turned on his heel, heading toward the laboratory door. "I wouldn't suggest wandering around, Manfred. My guests don't take kindly to ghosts."

"Dare I ask how you expect t--"

Von Karma's words were cut short as he saw what happened next. As Plasmius strolled past him, a ring of black... it wasn't light, not really. In fact, it seemed to suck the light from everything around it. It wrapped itself around Plasmius' middle, splitting into two, spreading apart as they made their way up and down his body. Von Karma, once again, lost his composure -- unable to do much more than stare in awe. In a matter of moments, the white tunic had changed to an expensive black suit -- Italian, from the looks of it -- while the black hair lightened to stark white, pulled back into a long ponytail. The most noticeable difference was the flesh: no longer a sickly blue but peach, flush and bright and--

"A-Alive?!" Von Karma sputtered, quickly circling the man to check for any signs of trickery. "What.. how?" He stared down at his own hands, still the deathly bluish hue. "Could I possibly...?"

"Human-ghost hybrid, a very rare condition. The process is complicated." He strode past von Karma. "And no, you cannot."

Circling him again, stopping right in front of his face, von Karma couldn't help but stare. Those terrifying red eyes were... blue, and wide, and very... innocent. He knew this face. Karma followed the buisness world very closely -- one could not achieve perfection without being properly informed. In every paper, every magazine, there was an article or a rumor or something involving... "Vlad Masters," he muttered quietly, "You're... you're Vlad Masters." He stepped back. "The multi-billionaire, the business tycoon, the... the ghost?"

Vlad scowled. "I have guests to attend to, Manfred. At a later time, I will elaborate on my abilities. For now... get out of my way."

Von Karma did not move, but made no effort to stop Vlad as he walked past, though a scrutinizing glare followed Masters until he was out of sight behind a metal door.

Elaborate on your abilities... von Karma echoed, narrowing his eyes. I'll be more than briefed, Vlad. I will learn your powers -- and your plan. He glanced at the computer warily, then all around the lab. He had been caught off-guard too many times. I will not allow it happen again.

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A long, hard stare at a pile of bills is enough to make anyone sleepy. Words upon words upon words, all stacked on top of one another in that boring, matter-of-fact black and white font, interrupted only by depressing lists of numbers... all of that on top of the growing dread on his shoulders. I can't keep my money for a second, his shoulders sunk as he rested his elbows on the desk, Where does it all keep going?

"Hey, Nick!" Maya's voice broke his thoughts like a candle at twilight... Or a string of floodlights in an underground tomb. "Let's go get something to eat! I'm starved!"

Phoenix turned, giving her a weary smile. "Not now... I've got too much work to do." He went back to the papers on his desk. "I can't keep procrastinating... I need to get these bills out of the way." Bills, and then taxes, and then more bills... life was just wonderful sometimes. He was really looking forward to another month on the ramen diet.

Maya didn't answer right away. Her silence was unnerving... usually when she was quiet, something was going to break, more often than not accompanied with a small explosion. Phoenix looked up. She was staring at her phone, lips pressed together into a thin line. "...Danny hasn't called me yet."

Phoenix leaned on the table, head in hand, elbow to the desk. "It's only been a few hours, Maya. He might not have even reached his friend's house yet."

"What if he never calls? I didn't get a number from him--"

"If he doesn't call, Maya, then he's obviously a jerk and you're better off without him." He gave her a warm smile. "Give it some time. He's visiting someone, and they've probably got the whole week planned out already."

Maya bowed her head. "I know...

"And remember, he does live out of town. So in reality..." Oh, Maya, please don't make that face. "I mean, anything can happen, you know? You just have to wait and see."

She sighed, leaning against the wall. For a while, the only sound in the room was the scratching of Pearl's crayons in her coloring book.

"Hey Nick," Maya called finally, a hopeful smile on her face, "How can you tell if you're in love?"

Phoenix heard a snap. He glanced over at Pearl -- she'd broken one of her crayons. Phoenix cast a worried look at Maya. "There's no surefire way to tell. You've got to give these things time, Maya. Don't just rush into it..."

"Hee! Nick, when I was next to him, I could feel it! He was special!" She twirled on her toes, giggling. "Ooh, it was like... like my heart KNEW, before I even looked at him! From the second he sat down--"

"That... that's stupid!" Pearl snapped, jumping up and clenching her hands into little fists, big eyes squinted in rage, "I mean, it doesn't make sense to fall in love with someone before you even LOOK at them, right?!" She whirled, giving her little scrunched-up scowl at Phoenix. "Right, Mister Nick?"

Phoenix nodded, stepping up from his desk and catching Maya by the hand in the middle of another twirl. "That's right. And I'm not telling you to stay away. I want you to have fun, but please, Maya... be careful."

Maya stepped back, playfully putting her hands on her hips. "Nick, you're such a worrywart. I'll be fine. I can trust Danny, I know it!"

Phoenix winced. He'd been in his share of bad relationships, however, and if he could spare anyone the pain that he'd... Wait, who in the world says 'worrywart' anymore?

Pearl put her hand on top of theirs, clasping them together. "You know what I think, is that when you fall in love, it should be with someone you know and trust and spend time with every day." She grinned.

Tapping Pearl on the nose with his free hand, Phoenix smiled. "Words of wisdom, Pearls. And sometimes that's for the best." He tugged his hand away, and smiled down at Maya. "Just remember to be careful. And know that sometimes things end in heartache."

Maya crossed her arms and playfully blew him a raspberry. "Thanks a lot, Nick. Now I feel loads better."

Phoenix laughed, sitting back down to his bills. "Misery does love company."

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"Maddie," Vlad greeted, smiling graciously as his beloved strolled into his mansion, soft red hair fluttering in the breeze as she walked, graceful and regal as a goddess. He turned his attention, reluctantly, to her children. "Jasmine, Daniel." His smile tweaked itself, just barely, into a smirk. He stepped forward and took Maddie's hand in his own, kissing it like a proper gentleman. He laughed inwardly, as Daniel growled in protest. Really, boy, if I had my way... I'd be kissing much more than her hand.

She smiled awkwardly. Regardless, it was still beautiful and graceful -- even on her bad days, Vlad was sure, Madeline would put even Aphrodite to shame. "Hello, Vlad," The words sounded forced. Understandable -- she was obviously struggling with her true feelings. Surely, she could see that he, Vlad Masters, would make a much more handsome, dignified, worthwile husband than--

"Heyyy! Vladdy, my man!" Jack stumbled in with his idiotic grin, giving a thumbs up. "My homie-G, my main squish! That's what the kids are saying these days! Man, the drive over was crazy. These california streets, how can you stand 'em? Traffic's thicker 'n fudge, it's nuts, especially since the cars are so small!" He squinted, holding two fingers close together. "I was this close to just driving over 'em, they were so tiny. Like ants. Ghost ants! Had an infestation of those once, what a week that was. Y'can't just blast them, not without scorching the linoleum..."

"How interesting," Vlad mumbled, tuning the man out. Jack was not unlike a pumpkin -- Big and round, dressed in bright orange, and perfect for driving a knife into. Vlad turned his attention to a much more pleasant sight. "Maddie, please, don't trouble yourself with your luggage! Here, allow me." Before she could protest he had taken her large suitcase in hand, lifting it with ease. "I do hope you enjoy your stay here. Allow me to show you all to your rooms..."

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Von Karma hadn't had much time to experiment with his powers, so the next hour or so had been spent simply getting used to his new condition. He practiced (and perfected) flying and any variation of it within minutes. Next, he experimented with intangibility -- passing through walls was still admittedly unsettling, but he would quickly work through that weakness. He had found, with a glance at his reflection, that intangibility also resulted in invisible -- and that was his next subject of experimentation.

Once he had gained a reasonable amount of control of his 'body' -- he used the term loosely -- von Karma set himself with the task of exploring the mansion. It was large, but not difficult to navigate -- the rooms followed a logical order. Rooms for entertaining guests were close to the entrance, but couldn't be accessed without first passing through an extravagent foyer and lavish hallways designed specifically to flaunt one's wealth. The kitchen was connected to the dining room, which was settled near the staircase that led to the upper floors, where von Karma had found guest bedrooms, studys, a vast library that spanned two stories, and other areas for various purposes.

He had been exploring the second floor further and passing by one of the bedrooms when he heard Vlad's muffled voice through the wall. Von Karma stopped, glancing around, and then pressed his ear to the door.

"If that's the case, Daniel," he could hear the sneer in Vlad's voice, "then please, enlighten me. Tell me what I'm planning."

"What else? Steal my mom, humiliate my dad, and then somehow convince me it's the right thing to do." A youth -- probably in is early pubescent years. "And it's not going to work, either. You'll never have me, or my mom."

Von Karma frowned. He hadn't met all the guests, but if that were truly the basics of Vlad's plan, then the father of this... 'Daniel' was logically the one who would be framed for murder.

"Grabbing for straws as always. Honestly, Daniel, you can't possibly be that dumb -- surely you've inherited some of your mother's genius?" Vlad sounded both sarcastic and exasperated at that. "Really, son--"

"I am not your son!"

"--you have so much untapped potential, wasted on defending your misguided perceptions of good and evil."

"Well, somebody has to stop creeps like you!"

"Down to petty insults, are we now? How easily you're forced into a defensive position."

Indeed, von Karma had to agree with Vlad. Daniel had walked himself right into a corner with wild accusations, devoid of any true means of backing his claims up, hiding only behind the guise of defending what is 'right'. Von Karma could help but chuckle softly. Daniel could easily join the ranks of defense attorneys.

"But I could help you change that," Vlad continued. "Why, if only you'd allow me to teach you--"

"Every time we meet," Daniel snapped, "you ask me the same thing. And--"

"And I will continue to pursue the matter, until you finally realize the truth." Vlad's voice grew stern and grim. "You have been given an amazing gift, Daniel -- one that sets you above the ranks of normal humans -- and you are letting it sputter into oblivion the way you stumble about blindly with it!"

Von Karma raised his eyebrows. A gift... that sets him above 'normal' humans... And yet Vlad spoke of it as if he, too, were above the populace in such a manner.

"I'm not stumbling... I'm learning! I'm--"

"Withering away! Every moment you spend calling yourself Jack's son, you are letting your powers shrivel up and die a little bit more!"

There was a pause. "That was a stupid metaphor," Daniel's voice had gained confidence, "all things considered."

Von Karma mulled that over in his head, brow furrowed. Powers, Vlad had said... and using death was a 'stupid metaphor'? A sly grin crossed von Karma's face. Perhaps he'd have to look into this...

"Well," Vlad said sharply, "As much as I'd love to stand here and argue, there are other things I must attend to." Footsteps moved across the room, heading for the door. Von Karma froze, and then quickly remembered -- intangibility. He passed through the wall just as Vlad made his exit, accompanied by a few parting words.

Daniel flopped onto the bed just as von Karma made a quick sweep across the room with his eyes. Daniel was indeed young, as he'd thought. And scrawny. Carefully, he stepped forward, and a small puff of blue mist erupted from the boy's mouth.

Daniel's eyes snapped open and he bolted upright. "Who's there?"

Von Karma froze, scrutinizing the boy, glancing down for a moment to check and see he was still invisible.

Daniel glanced around, scowling. "I know you're in here..." He stepped off the bed, just as two white rings wrapped themselves around his middle -- and he made a very familiar transformation.

Just as I suspected, von Karma thought, allowing his form to become visible. He kept his gaze fixed on Daniel, who jumped back and got into a defensive stance. The boy's black hair had turned snow white, and his loose shirt and jeans were replaced by a tight black bodysuit, accented with white.

"Who are you?" Daniel snapped, narrowing his impossibly bright green eyes.

Von Karma inspected the boy a moment more before he spoke. "That is not the proper way to make an accusation, boy."

Daniel frowned. "I... what?

"If you want to make someone look guilty -- that Plasmius, for instance -- you need to investigate and gather evidence to prove it. Build a solid, untouchable case against him, and then state his guilt." He cast a disapproving glare down at the boy. "You did nothing but embarass yourself just now."

"I... it... thanks?" Daniel stared, an amusing look of confusion crossing his face. "Who are you?"

"I am Manfred von Karma," he stated with pride, "And you are Daniel, correct?"

Daniel stared, inspecting -- good, at least the boy knew to be on guard. Some people were too trusting. "...Just Danny is fine," he said hesitantly, "Danny Phantom."

"I see." Daniel was still poised to attack, hands giving off a dim glow. Belatedly, von Karma realized that he had not attempted the attacks he had seen Vlad perform, and was helpless should Daniel decide to grow violent. Turning up his nose, von Karma circled the boy, who was groing increasingly nervous under the prosecutor's gaze.

Silence reigned between them, and Daniel shifted uncomfortably on his feet. Finally, von Karma raised his chin and turned to leave. "I will be speaking with you again, I am sure." As he turned intangible to pass through the wall, he added, "You will not inform vlad Plasmius that we have spoken."

"Wait a second--"

"It was a pleasure to meet you, Daniel Phantom."

And with that, von Karma had passed through the wall, then quickly, the floor. He wove his way around the house, exploring once again, before finally starting back toward the laboratory.

Vlad, it seemed, wanted to win Daniel's favor... von Karma smirked. From what he had heard, there was very little chance of that ever happening. But I, on the other hand, have a clean slate with the boy. If he were to earn Daniel's respect... indeed, perhaps even his admiration... Smiling, he ran through the possibilities in his mind. Vlad may have stacked the deck, but von Karma already had an ace up his sleeve.

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Author's Notes: OH MAN GUYS. LIEK WOW, WHAT A WAIT, HUH? XD I'm glad you guys all stuck around for chapter three. I've been working on this since Otakon but it really was a pain to write out... though once I got through the Nick and Maya scene the thing practically wrote itself. Vladdy and Manny's first few scenes were the hardest to write, due to the fact that I needed to explain SO MUCH while still keeping it interesting.

This chapter was supposed to run in a completely different direction but then Manfred was just like "EINSPRUCH!" and totally did his own thing. I hate and/or love it when characters do that, heh. Anyway, on to reviews! I'm going to try to answer every one so far, so listen good:

Airbender-chan: Little Miss I'll-cut-and-paste-from-LJ :3 You got the luck and the speed of getting the first review, which is great, because you already had one written up din'cha? Hehe, but yeah, I know what you mean about how hard it is to get people to read crossovers xx I'm trying soo hard to keep this interesting for both sides of the fandom spectrum, which means a perfect balance between DP characters and Phoenix Wright characters. Which I don't think I've been doing properly, OOPS!

+ Chan: How in the world do I pronounce your name? Hehe. I can totally relate -- crossovers are my favorite kind of fic but good ones are so hard to find. Even if they're good ideas and written well, sometimes they fail to explain the second fandom and leave me very lost. Which is why I'm trying to make sure EVERYONE can understand :D Maya/Danny kind of snuck up on me idea-wise, but they were going to have a LOT of interaction anyway, so I figured "Might as well!" And Vlad and Manfred, man, how can you not love those two together? XD

Firefury: We spoke on AIM, but thank you agian for the praise and the shout-out, and for beta-ing!

Dagzar: Well, thanks to the populace such as yourself, my review count has certainly jumped since then :3 Of course Vlad is trying to get rid of Jack, he's got so much free time, what else is there to do for him? Hehe

Officer 1BDI: Well, I hope your brain wraps around it soon, hehe. And the similarities between Vladdy and Manny were one of the man things that jump-started the idea for this story, so we're on the same page!

Skye-chan: it's not exactly Sailor Phantom like we talked about forever ago, but... hey, it's still fun:D

Baroquemystery: zomgimtrying D: I'm going as fast as I can!! I want quality... it's always better if y'all ENJOY the end product, you know:3 I'm glad you like!!

Chao: I aim to please! Thanks for the kind words.

Konran: Is more than three now:B Thankyuu :3

BloodScale: :D OMG! Thank you, then, for taking the time to review. I know how it is to be too lazy to review and so knowing you did it anyway makes my day!

". . .": O snap, I got ninja'd:O I'm glad you like the triangle, mysterious masked reviewer!!

Hunter-the-Lynx: I loved making it fit together, I love a challenge:3 Thank you